Mark Morris’s Darkstar Academy

Audio One of the minor pleasures of AudioGo’s Doctor Who range is in hearing how each of the readers interprets Amy Pond, their collected accents wandering from highlands to lowlands with some audibly taking vocal run up to each line of dialogue. Clare Corbett’s been the best at this, usually offering a sound that’s near indistinguishable from Karen Gillan, but you must at least applaud Clive Mantel or Stuart Milligan for the attempt, neither of their alpha male basses really suited to the sarcastic Scots girl, especially since it’s never been properly established exactly where she was born.

So it’s a disappointment to report that with Mark Morris’s Darkstar Academy, Alexander Armstrong when faced with the challenge decides it would best not to even attempt Amy, sticking with his usual genial English delivery. Indeed, unlike some readers, he makes little attempt to replicate any of the regulars and barely distinguishes much between the other characters. Or indeed between scenes, providing much the same delivery to the dialogue and action sequences, neither gifted with any great urgency leaving the sound design to do much of the work in that department.

But that’s not the only disappointment because Morris’s story is a bit of a minor entry anyway. Perhaps it was unfair to listen to Darkstar Academy straight after the magnificent Shada, especially since it has much more limited aims across a tinier duration, but unlike some writers who make the most of the audio medium, Morris is content here to simply provide a piece of short fiction which takes about an hour to read and probably would have worked just as well within a Christmas annual and I’m trying to be as polite as I possibly can.

The story begins well enough. The Doctor’s being plagued by attacks brought on my seepages of artron energy, or time slippage, and sets the TARDIS down at the source, what appears to be a 1950s English public school. The incongruity of that leads him and his friends to explore the old building and as in the best of these stories, not everything is as its seems and it develops into a fairly enjoyable, if also fairly typical base under siege piece with the inhabitants of the Academy menace by the giant crab-like spider things imagineered on the cd cover.

Morris nicely observes the banter between the regulars and the Doctor’s usual bluff in the company of figures of authority, the headmaster in this case, and there’s a real sense of wonder as the school begins to give up its secrets. We’re introduced to Milton, a school boy who knows he’s a bit of genius who is instantly likeable in a similar vein to Cyril from The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe or Young Kazran from A Christmas Carol, the kind which Matt Smith always such excellent chemistry with.

But there’s a constant sense that we’re not hearing anything new (I know, in Doctor Who, the very idea!) and as Morris paces towards the climax and his base under siege gives way to another locale, it becomes apparent that the writer has in mind some cross-genre hijinks the nature of which might leave some listeners sighing. Or if you’re me walking up Catherine Street in Liverpool this afternoon, saying, “Really? Is that it? Again?” with someone giving me an understandably curious look as I passed them.  Oh, well.

Mark Morris’s Darkstar Academy is out now from AudioGo.  Review copy supplied.

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